Rep. Sohn Hak-kyu, center, chairman of the main opposition Democratic Party (DP), and DP lawmaker Chung Dong-young, right, hand out leaflets that call for a renegotiation of the free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States to passers-by near Yeouido Subway Station, Seoul, Friday. / Yonhap
By Kang Seung-woo
Unfounded and absurd rumors about the ill effects of the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement (KORUS FTA) are spreading rapidly through social networking services (SNS).
One rumor argues that the FTA will wipe out Korean rice farmers and Korea will fall victim to big grain producers, although the rice market has already been opened in accordance with the multilateral agreement made under the supervision of the World Trade Organization.
Another claims that the FTA will push mad cow disease to immediate epidemic proportions; while firearm controls will be lifted, turning Korean streets into scenes of gun battles.
There appear to be a couple of different twists to the “mad cow protests” over Seoul’s decision to resume American beef imports that peaked with candlelit protests two and a half years ago. One of them is the medium. It was then Internet blogs but now SNSs such as Twitters are taking over.
But there are common threads pushing the two rumor machines ― a high level of discontent among young people, hit by dark prospects of unemployment, and deep distrust of the incumbent government.
The rumor mills are expected to go on at full tilt during the deadlock over the ratification of the KORUS FTA in the National Assembly.
At the center of the rumor is the investor-state dispute (ISD) clause as part of the FTA, which would allow foreign investors to bring suits against the government of the co-signatory before an international panel of arbitrators.
Protestors demanded that the ISD be removed from the accord, arguing the provision would limit Seoul’s policies on American investors.
The increasing argument on the ISD is churning out wild rumors.
According to the messages on the KORUS FTA circulating on the Internet and SNS, Koreans will suffer from expensive medical bills, caused by privatization of medical services. Protests say, for example, patients will have to pay 9 million won for an appendectomy, up from currently 300,000 won, after the FTA takes effect.
In addition, they say that the FTA deal will raise public utility charges, as Bolivia faced after the FTA with the United States.
However, both rumors turned out to be false, as the medical sector is not included in the FTA, while Bolivia did not reach an agreement with the United States, according to the government.
The rumor-spreading campaign has reached political parties.
The Democratic Labor Party came up with 12 poisonous articles on the FTA, while an opposition lawmaker cited the message that 15 Mexican delegates of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) were shot to death after the nation’s economic downfall following the FTA.
The escalating rumors come as the Lee administration has failed to regain popularity.
In the Seoul mayoral election last month, opposition-backed civic activist Park Won-soon won with 53.3 percent of the vote compared to his Grand National Party rival Na Kyung-won’s 46.3 percent.
President Lee Myung-bak is rapidly becoming a lame duck ahead of his final year in office as a series of corruption scandals involving presidential aides has erupted.
한미 FTA에 관한 확인되지 않은 부정적인 영향에 관한 소문들이 소셜 네트워크 서비스를 통해서 빠르게 퍼지고 있다.
어떤 소문에 따르면 FTA로 인해 한국 쌀농사가 전폐되고 한국이 거대 곡물 기업의 희생양이 될것이라고 한다. 하지만 이미 쌀시장은 WTO협정에 따라서 개방이 되어있다.
또 다른 소문은 FTA로 인해 인간 광우병이 창권한다고 하고 FTA가 총기 반입도 허용할것이라고 한다.
이번 소문들이 지난번 광우병 촛불 집회와 다른 점은 미디어에 있다. 그당시에는 인터넷 블로그를 통해서 소문들이 전파되었지만 이번경우에는 트위터와 같은 소셜 네트워크 서비스가 인터넷 블로그를 대체하고있다.
그러나 이 두미디어의 공통점 또한 있다. 이는 바로 청년실업으로 힘들어 하고 현정부를 불신하는 젊은 층의 높은 불만의 표현이다.